Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko made a surprise visit to Eastern Ukraine on Friday, where he announced a unilateral ceasefire and a 14-point peace plan meant to quell unrest in the region and turn the tide of the bloody conflict that has raged there since April.
Except the plan is not really meant to do any of that. The first clue that the ceasefire won’t hold is that it’s unilateral, meaning the pro-Russia militants the Ukrainian army is fighting haven’t actually agreed to it. So it’s just as well that in his orders to stop shooting, Poroshenko added a caveat that essentially boils down to, “You can keep shooting.”
Here’s how the first sentence of the statement on the official website of the presidential administration reads: “Petro Poroshenko ordered a ceasefire in the east of the country, which will last from 10pm, June 20 to 10am, June 27.”
Great, but then there’s the fine print at the bottom: “In case an armed assault is carried out against Ukrainian forces or the civilian population, our military will open fire.”
So what about the Peace Plan component of the deal? Poroshenko has given security guarantees to all those involved in negotiations, and immunity from prosecution for all those who have taken up arms. Except no one on the rebel side is involved in negotiations, and immunity is only guaranteed to those who haven’t committed “serious crimes.”
Poroshenko’s peace plan is an attempt to retake the moral high ground in the eyes of his people and the international community.
So any rebels who have taken up arms but haven’t fired them in anger seem to be in the clear — but it doesn’t look like the rest have a terribly huge incentive to put down their weapons.
Why has Poroshenko even announced this peace deal, which the rebels have had no hand in and which the Kremlin has already called “an ultimatum to the rebels in southeastern Ukraine to disarm?”
Ukraine doesn’t control its border with Russia in the east and blames Russia for sending arms and mercenaries across its frontier into the fight. The Ukrainian Interior Minister’s latest photo post on Facebook about captured Russian arms featured an armored personnel carrier with documentation allegedly linking it to an army base in Russia. That’s why point No. 4 of the peace plan, which calls for the creation of a six-mile buffer zone along the border, looks more like a military objective than an olive branch.
At the same time, Russia has repeatedly called for Ukraine to withhold fire and pull its troops out of the east of the country to spare the lives of civilians and rebels, who according to Russia have legitimate grievances against the central authorities in Kiev. This posturing is helping Russia win the propaganda war at home, if not in Ukraine and abroad.
Poroshenko’s peace plan is an attempt to retake the moral high ground in the eyes of both his own people and the international community. Now, every pot shot that is taken against Ukrainian troops after 10pm tonight is an example of the pro-Russia separatists' unwillingness to give peace a chance.
So don’t expect peace to break out in eastern Ukraine anytime soon. The likelihood is that the Ukrainian military will intensify its operations against the rebels — but with an added sense of moral superiority.
Follow Simon Ostrovsky on Twitter: @SimonOstrovsky